portugal travel tip: do a belem dinner and tour with we hate tourism tours

It was the company’s name that caught my attention immediately—We Hate Tourism Tours. Oh, the irony, I thought to myself, then I noticed that they had over 1,000 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, and that was it for me; I decided this was exactly the kind of excursion I wanted to do while in Lisbon. I clicked on the link and loved their website—every tour description is infused with the kind of snarky, deadpan humor that I love. And I liked what they had on offer so much that we did two tours with them—Dinner with Us or Starve (come on, that’s hilarious!) and the X-Day Trip to Sintra and Cascais (which I’ll be saving for my next post, because I really like to milk it, or because some of you have short attention spans ;))!


Our tour didn’t exactly get off to a great start—but that was also entirely our fault. We were so proud of ourselves—we’d gotten to our meeting point early! We stood at the meeting point, searching for any groups that we thought could be ours, but we didn’t see anybody. Which led to a freakout that maybe we were in the wrong place. So the hubs pulled up the itinerary on his phone (the WiFi was being a bit spotty that night, too), and he looked and me and said we’re in the wrong place—which began a mad rush to where we thought we were supposed to be. We got to the square, and we stood at the meeting point, but there was no one there. Finally, our tour guide, Gonzi, called my phone trying to figure out where we were. Well, as it turned out, we were at the right meeting point—but for our other tour with We Hate Tourism Tours the next day (yes, that was a major fail on our part). So Gonzi instructed us to wait at the McDonald’s and said he was going to pick us up. Well, it turned out traffic was not cooperating, so he called me again and asked if we could meet him at the train station, but I had no idea where the train station was, our WiFi wasn’t working, and I was getting to that frazzled point of frustration. But Gonzi—bless his heart—did not give up on us. He by some miracle found us and ushered us into a car filled to the brim with some crazy Australian women who immediately gave us (well-deserved and good-spirited) shit for being so late. (Well, that was embarrassing.)

Gonzi took us through the city center and out to a quieter part of town, to a little hole-in-the-wall (i.e., authentic) restaurant for—I kid you not—a six-course meal (at least; I lost count after a while) and all the green wine we could drink (you guys, green wine is delicious). There was toast with mozzarella and honey, some kind of paella, a rice dish, a meat dish—every time I thought we were done, another course was placed in front of us. I won’t lie to you—I was in a sated haze through most of it, devouring the tasty food, plied with plenty of green wine (I’m a lightweight), and laughing along with those crazy, lovely Australian ladies who were actually living and working in Berlin (apparently it’s very easy to emigrate to Berlin—just in case you were wondering).


After dinner, Gonzi took us on a little drive. He stopped by the Águas Livres Aqueduct, which by some miracle survived the catastrophic earthquake (seismologists estimate it at a nine-point magnitude), followed by an enormous tsunami, that destroyed much of Lisbon and took over 70,000 lives in 1755. The aqueduct is also the setting for Lisbon’s very own Jack-the-Ripper-esque serial killer story: Diogo Alves would loiter on the aqueduct until nightfall, rob those crossing the aqueduct, and then push them to their deaths; in the end, he murdered 70 people. He was hanged for his crimes, and then decapitated for good measure; scientists—phrenologists in particular—thought the shape of a person’s skull was determined by certain character traits, and they thought that by studying Alves’s brain they’d gain understanding on what could make a person so undeniably evil (his perfectly preserved severed head is on display at the University of Lisbon’s Medical School, if you want to see what a crazed murderer from the nineteenth century looks like).


After that charming tale, Gonzi took us into the Belem district, where he picked up the most amazing traditional Portuguese egg tart pastries from Pasteis de Belem. You can get these pastries almost anywhere in Lisbon, but these are the “original” pastel de Belem; Pasteis de Belem has been making them since 1837.

From there, we headed to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, also known as the Monument of Discoveries. The original monument was conceived and built for the World’s Fair in 1940 but was demolished in 1943. In 1958, the government decided they wanted to replicate the monument, but larger, and that is the monument that lives along the waterfront to this day, celebrating the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. The walkway before the monument is rather special too—it is a map of the world in the center for a compass, constructed of black, white, and red tiles. There, we stood, looking up at the monument, savoring the delicious pastries (with cinnamon sprinkled on top—heaven) and a glass of port wine (which originates from the Portuguese town of Porto—did you know that?). Just a shot of that heady stuff (well, after all of the green wine), and I could not feel my face anymore (again: lightweight).

Gonzi carted us back to the original meeting place toward midnight; a few people were going to check out some of the nightlife in Lisbon after our tour, but the hubs and I, being the old farts that we are, walked back to our hotel, since we needed to get up early for our Sintra day trip! (And Gonzi, by the way, was a total card and a phenomenal tour guide; I would recommend this tour to anyone who has a sense of humor and loves authentic tourist experiences—which seems like an oxymoron, I know.)

To be continued!

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